14 Essential Steps for Choosing the Right Estate Planning Attorney

Unlock the secrets to seamless estate planning with our expert guide.

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Updated June 6, 2024
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Whether you’ve just become a parent, are planning to retire, or are at the point where you need to get your affairs in order, hiring an estate planning attorney is a huge step in adulthood.

An estate planning attorney can help you write a will, set up trusts, create a plan to minimize tax liabilities and help create a seamless plan to avoid or reduce the frustrations of probate.

When you’re ready to set up your estate plan, here are some tips to help you find the right estate planning attorney.

Understand what you need

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Estate plans aren’t one-size-fits-all solutions. You may need to prepare yourself financially differently than someone else and find an estate planning attorney to work with your situation. 

Consider whether you need to write a basic will from scratch, want to set up multiple trusts to mitigate tax liability, or have beneficiary designations that need to be put in place.

Dig into the fees

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Hiring an estate planning attorney is an investment. Whether you hire an estate planning attorney with a flat rate or one that charges an hourly fee, expect to pay north of $1,000, with more complex estate plans coming in closer to $5,000.

You want a clear picture of what this will look like before the bill arrives. Jut remember, this is all to help your next of kin have a more seamless process.

Look at their qualifications

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Research your estate planning attorney's qualifications, from making sure they’re licensed in your state to looking at the associations and councils where they are members. 

Lawyers can join associations, councils, and networks, so it’s good to see where yours has been recognized.

Ask if they’ve been published

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Knowing that your estate planning attorney has been published, whether it’s in an industry journal or another publication, lends credibility to their background. Check out what they’ve written and use it to help decide whether they’re the right fit for you.

Clarify their level of customization

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When you go to an estate planning attorney, it’s likely because you need some customization beyond what an online template offers. 

As you’re talking to attorneys, clarify the level of customization they’ll provide to determine whether it will fit your needs and is worth the cost.

Get a free consultation

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If you're entirely new to the estate planning process and are not yet sure what you need, talking to an estate planning attorney who offers a free consultation could be a good first step to help figure out where you stand and what you need when hiring someone.

Ask for recommendations

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Of any attorney you could hire, an estate planning attorney will see you at your most vulnerable, thinking about what happens when you’re gone. 

Finding someone you can trust is critical, so asking friends and family for recommendations is one of the best ways to start your search.

Look outside your area

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While you need to find someone licensed in your state, it can be frustrating to restrict yourself only to those within your town, especially since there isn’t usually an abundance of estate planning attorneys in any one city. 

Ask for recommendations and search beyond the city limits to find the right person for you.

Ask the right questions

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Considering the impact of hiring an estate planning attorney, you want to take the time to make sure you hire the right person. Ask all the questions — nothing is off-limits.

Get into their history, how long they’ve been practicing, where they went to school, and what they have experience with. 

Talk about the logistics, like how they communicate with clients and what the process looks like. You should understand what your relationship will look like.

Look past their branding

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The estate planning attorney with the slickest branding isn’t necessarily the best at their job. Listen to what they have to say, look at their qualifications and credentials, and take into account recommendations. Those are the best ways to get the best lawyer.

Consider an attorney with specializations

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If you have specific needs for your estate, whether that’s due to a health condition or complicated financial situations, you may need an estate planning attorney who has expertise in a specialization.

They can speak directly to the protections you’ll need, whether in the form of language within your estate plan or another lawyer getting involved, like an elder law attorney.

Ask if they have malpractice insurance

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Carrying malpractice insurance doesn't mean an attorney expects to do something wrong. It’s a sign they're responsible enough to take accountability should something go wrong. 

You could be in a precarious situation if something happens and your lawyer doesn't have malpractice insurance.

Know when it’s OK to use an online service

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Paying for an estate planning attorney isn’t always necessary. Sometimes, a simple online will template could do the job. This can help you cover the basics of estate planning, and you can decide later whether bringing in an estate planning attorney is necessary.

Recognize that some bar referrals are pay-to-play

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While Bar Association Referral Services could have excellent lawyers on their lists, it’s important to remember that many of these lists are pay-to-play. They may not necessarily be the best; they’re just the lawyers willing to pay for advertising.

Bottom line

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Putting an estate plan into place is essential to secure your financial future. If you don’t decide where your wealth will go, someone else will. That can create endless headaches for the next of kin in charge of figuring out the estate puzzle.

Having a plan is the best gift you can give the next generation, regardless of whether they’ll see an inheritance.

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Heather Bien

Heather Bien is a writer covering personal finance and budgeting and how those relate to life, travel, entertaining, and more. With bylines that include The Spruce, Apartment Therapy, and mindbodygreen, she's covered everything from tax tips for freelancers to budgeting hacks to how to get the highest ROI out of your home renovations.